Category Archives: Luk

Emmaus

April 30, 2017, The Rev. Luk De Volder

Emmaus Sermon 3 Easter 2017 pdf

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-171; Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Their eyes were kept from recognizing him. There are moments in life when we can’t see straight anymore, while we are hoping for some liberation. We can’t find a way to escape out of our frame of mind. At times, real life can have a lot of disillusion, an inventory of bruises and scars, lost hopes, and evaporated dreams. Especially in this season of church decline and political turmoil we may go home at times and wonder: where did all the heroes go? Is there nothing sacred left? Was God not supposed to intervene once in a while?

This past week I attended a Diversity and Integrity training at the Visions worship up in Boston, promoted by our bishop Ian Douglas. I learned a lot, most of all that there is still so much to learn. Most visionary and revealing to me was this one conversation I had with Lawrence, an African-American man in his mid-Twenties, with a heart of gold, a disarming honesty, and remarkable resilience. He decided to share his story with me. Lawrence is the youngest of 7 children, but the only one with a college degree, which gives him tremendous responsibility. Recently the national wave of lay-offs at Macy’s department stores also affected his managerial job. I confess, he said, it triggered in me the reflection of system beating. At first, I thought, the HR system had selected me out because of my color. But now, he told me, I can see how this is mostly due to internalized oppression. I am not denying that at times I do experience exclusion in life. But after internalizing these experiences, I can also frame my own choices in that negative narrative. After reading scripture I come to realize I always have the freedom to step outside of those framing and limiting mindsets. Do you see what I mean? he asked. I was blown away by his honesty, his self-awareness, and his willingness to address what he learnt about himself. And he added another question: do you see internalized oppression in your life? Bam – What compassion & empathy for a white male he had only known for a day or two. I was so moved. We talked for much longer about the future he is hoping to build, the loss of friendships he experiences because he has a college degree, and the support he needs to help others. I couldn’t help but notice our hearts burning. We both walked away, fired up, with a deepened willingness and new insight to address the realities of oppression in our own lives and around us. This conversation made me realize how much frame of mind is keeping conversations about race from evolving; how much certain mindsets could be changed by these kinds of conversations.

The striking part of my conversation with Lawrence was, like the Emmaus-disciples story, we were two guys who went on and on. Men talking about their issues? Our pity-duet, like the despair litany of the Emmaus-disciples, took off, not so much because we like to complain or think we have a license to wallow, but because the anxieties and tensions of all the expectations I fail to meet are running through me, the shadow-side of my personality, all of this can make me feel like life is not clicking, as if my life is at a stand-still. A church without a success Messiah, a life without a career, Where do I go? As burned-out employees, these two Emmaus-disciples are at a stand-still. How do they get their lives back on track?

Luke’s record of what happened on the walk away from Jerusalem, away from the place where God is, shows three steps of recovery and liberation: 1) feeling heard, that someone listens to you; 2) interrupting and transcending our own limited narrative; 3) seeing what you see.

First there is ample time to tell your story, so that you feel heard. This is not simply a matter of feeling understood. It is a moment during which we start to sense that the shadow-side of life, our short- comings, weaknesses, anxieties, do not need to be kept in hiding. In fact, grace is seeking to avoid that split in us, between the ideal me and the failed me. Rather, this is a moment to integrate my shadow- side. God is hoping to embrace me, also in the parts where I feel the Messiah is gone, those parts where I see no light or hope at this moment. Arriving at church should indeed be about your issues, should include where it hurts, where you are angry and sad, what matters to you right now.

Second: Jesus intervenes. O ye fools. It seems at first Jesus didn’t read the communication guidelines to avoid as much as possible the use of ‘but’. You did a great job, but. We like you at the office, but. Oh, that fatal but. In Jesus’s defense, he didn’t say “but”. Nor is this a mere sneer. It is more like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings affectionately saying to Frodo and his friend: you my fools. In fact, the Greek word points to a deeper level: anoèntes can also be translated as “you who are unaware”. Haven’t you read the scriptures?

Faced with a crisis of confidence and hope, the story invites us to match it with a practice of inserting a perspective from outside our frame work. Jesus’s move is a bit like the exercise of Ludwig Wittgenstein showing his students a drawing of a rabbit and when he turns the drawing you see a duck. Wittgenstein’s question was: is this a drawing of a rabbit or a duck. Neither, he said. The lines we choose are the framework we decide on.

At times, we indeed can be so stuck in a frame of mind that renewal is not possible. It takes a kind of mental intervention that lifts us out of that framework to help our awareness to wake up and see that we have the freedom to see things differently, to stop the tape of negativity in our heads. The spiritual practice of reading scripture with Jesus is indeed this moment of increased awareness through which we allow ourselves to be lifted out of our own frame of mind. This is why bringing the book into the middle of our church is meant to express scripture coming into the middle of my life.

Third: the scene goes from a side-by-side conversation to a sit-down dinner. Now the conversation rolls into a face-to-face experience. I no longer have to hide my shadow side, my framework, and my tape repeating my limited conclusions on life has been paused. Now the meeting turns to what Charles Péguy once voiced: See what you see. Only when bread broke in front of their eyes could they realize what they were staring at – the loss, the decline, the finality of it all, and what prevented them from really seeing. And all of the sudden the broken bread created the opening to look beyond their cherished insights and ways of seeing things into a presence. As it happens at dinners, in the experience of eating and being together, a warmth manifests itself. The food is an expression of the bond. We may even sense a certain excess, a sense of exceeding, an evocative sense of communion. Being together just became poetic. The different parts of life have just reach a point of integration. This is why the breaking of the bread, over and over again, is so crucial. In it we are willing to break up our outlook on the world and allow the perspective of grace to insert itself.

As a result, the disciples recognize him. The next thing you know, they are walking again. There is renewal, recovery. There is liberation. Ever since, Christians have followed the same pattern each Sunday: expressing where they are in life; reading scripture as if Jesus is telling us; breaking bread to create communion and an opening in our minds and hearts. There is mission. Let’s do this, live this, carry out this liberation. The Christian writer Max Lucado wrote a book entitled: “It’s not about me.” Sorry Max: It is about me. He has a point against narcissism, but the title is misleading in suggesting that coming to church and having faith would not be about my needs. Christ died for me. In that sense, it is about me.

Also, as it turns out, these steps of practice were never meant to be a ritual only. These are moves of liberation, to come as you are, to spill all your c-r-a-p, to integrate your sense of failure into a path of hope. By allowing the voice and perspective of the Other – with capital O – to come in my life, I, in turn, am lifted up outside the confines of my own reservations, anxieties and limited thinking and I return to the world with an open heart, a heart that is healed and strengthened. Or in more classical terms: the presence of the Lord, not only brings me salvation, Jesus also empowers me to bring others into the hope of love and trust. I hope these practices of liberation will also for you remain fresh, unlock your heart where needed, turn your life back into gear. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Love Bade Me Welcome

March 12, 2017

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But Quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

George Herbert..

Grace Awakening 2

February 26, 2017

Why Grace Awakening you may ask? At Trinity our community is acutely in tune with the needs of our time. And it’s been a tough period for many people, with many still facing distrust and lost faith in institutions. So maybe it’s time to listen to each other, listen to our inner voices and remind each other of what is best in us, of our American values, our democratic ideals, and the joined Abrahamic roots we have in common in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Honoring and rediscovering the grace that is already among us will rekindle in us the power of a new beginning. We will find again a way to build community,  not built on some big idea or on a complicated 33-step program to happiness, but based on the simple practice of waking up to the beauty of grace present all around us, in all of us. Reminding each other of the gift of this world, of our bodies and souls, of our commonalities and differences we have the amazing potential of coming together in resolute hope and bathing in the Grace, regardless of our background or preferences.

It is this Grace Awakening that we would like to promote in this year’s season of Lent and Easter time at Trinity, as a community, with a series of speakers, times of prayer, and concrete opportunities for community engagement.

We indeed seek to support community leadership among us and to embolden each other to raise our prophetic voice in a time when our society again needs this, a voice to defend the oppressed, the refugee, people burdened by poverty or suffering from addiction. Through our community leadership each one of us can help to reconnect with a culture of healthy civic engagement and political dialogue. From the perspective of Grace Awakening this engagement is self-evident, a natural part of our calling to see and restore Grace in each other and ourselves.

And so we pray that Christ may guide our steps while we reach out to each other to awaken this power of Grace.

Grace Awakening 1

February 19, 2017

With or without God? The contemporary wrestling with the God factor could be a variation on U2’s song, With or Without You, that continues with the line:  I can’t live, with or without you? At some level contemporary culture is trying out life without God, but simultaneously there is a hunger to reconnect with God again.

Long before political change was added to our daily diet of change digestion, we already have been meditating on vast changes that our culture and our churches are going through. These waves of change include our sense on how to find God in our day and age, on how to live spiritually centered in our world that looks so different than the Biblical days.

2017 is the celebration year of 500 year Reformation, Martin Luther hammered his copy of the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle church door. Reading this copy today, the words sounds surprisingly fresh. They resonate with our culture and church that is hungry for renewal, while finding ways to preserve what we find essential.

At Trinity we are joining this longing for renewal, but rather than pitching another Great Awakening, a movement that was apocalyptic, focused on guilt, atonement and the evil status of the world, we decisively seek to reconnect with the hope and profound goodness expressed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That founding document of Christianity brought a Grace Awakening, a sense of hope and new beginning in an age overflowing with change.

Our season of Lent and Easter at Trinity will focus on this Grace Awakening, through speakers, prayer meetings, reflections. Thanks to all collaborating with our Grace Awakening experience at Trinity.

Blessed Snow!

February 12, 2017

Blessed Snow! I realize the snow storm may have caused harm, may have thrown our schedules off, but there is also another side to the nor’easter. There is barely any other event that brings people into the streets these days, that binds people in our neighborhoods, or that even stimulates people to ask for help, because their snow blower ran out of gas or they need more milk for the kids. That community side of the snow is a blessing and you can tell it by looking at people’s faces: all smiles.

Rekindling this sense of connection among people might be one of the side effects of the current climate in our country. More and more people are reaching out to each other to find ways in which they can embolden each other, they can shoulder other people’s needs, or rally together, as if they are going through a snow blizzard. That community part is positive. Because, while our age of institutional decline did start a while ago, it took some time to realize that whatever institution we are taking about, state or church, presidency or media, they all rely on the corner stone of society: the people. “We The People” isn’t simply a slogan or a claim, it is also a truth on how humanity advances, is protected, and might excel.

If I may, this sense of people power is also part of our Christian movement and it has been from its early days. Fairly quickly followers of Jesus started talking about the “work of the people”, “lit-urgia”, or “liturgy”. Today “liturgy” is the churchy term for worship, but it was the Christian way of calling worship service what it is in truth: not the privilege of a holier few or a richer elite or a spirited worship band, but the service of grace finding implementation in all people and through all people. “Liturgy” isn’t simply a slogan or a claim, it is also a truth on how humanity advances into humanity, how humanity is protected and how humanity may secure the bond of dignity in God.

And if snow is helping people to connect and stimulating us to reflect on this “work of the people”, I say: blessed snow.

Kidcity

February 3, 2017

What is one to do in this political season? Many of us are reaching a point of exhaustion regarding the high-level tension in the national political ‘conversation’. Many others are ready for action and are calling all leaders to join in.

The main concern of churches should be pastoral and ethical. Pastoral includes caring and praying for all in need, regardless, including for our political leaders, which is a Biblical tradition. The equally Biblical ethical concern includes a permanent call for justice, outreach to people in peril, and advocacy against oppression. But the general conversation, or what is left of it, is spilling over into deafening hate speech, hardening positions beyond the audible reach of the voice of these concerns.

To address this situation, much more will be needed than can be expressed in this enews format. But one thing we all need in these days is a break from the political frenzy. What are the chances to get such a break? Our family decided to go to Kidcity, the children’s museum in Middletown, CT. It was the best escape strategy for the week. The “museum” transports children and adults alike into different universes of the farm life, the ocean world, or the excitement of the 1950’s. To see the children interact with smoke and bubble machines, carrots gardens or loaves of bread made us see once more how much promise, potential, and joy is coming into these children’s lives.

Back in the car ride home our smartphones were immediately telling us again about the latest political issues. But our Kidcity experience made us realize right away the deep need we all sense to find a community and a country that creates the same room of promise, potential and joy for our children. Of course we cannot transform the reality of daily life into a Kidcity dreamland. But there are multiple opportunities. One example is the McKinsey Company that calculates the value of such promise and potential when addressing the question of women’s equal pay. Their conclusion is stunning: advancing womens’ equality would add 12 trillion dollars to the global growth.  (http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/how-advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-global-growth)

My prayer today is that we find more of these experiences and studies that contribute to promise and joy for the future of all.

Inauguration Day

January 20, 2017

On this Inauguration Day we all are united in care and prayer for the future of our Union.  The exceptional societal challenges of our time have impacted the election of a new president that is unlike any previous one.  Watching the transition of power today, I was touched on how civil and dignified the ceremony was, highlighting how America is a country of “We, the People.”

The ceremony and speeches reminded me that, when our Declaration of Independence was signed, loyal Americans were of one mind to protect “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 240 years later we are all called to be of one mind to protect the freedom for which so many fellow Americans before us sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

While democracy throughout the world is going through growth pains, so many countries look to America and its world leadership. On this Inauguration Day we all join each other, put our trust in God, and pray that God’s grace may guide our leaders, our president and secretaries, to do all in their power to protect our nation and fortify the dream of life, liberty, and happiness for all Americans. And we pray that We, the People, do all in our power to do the same.

Water & Grace

January 14, 2017

In a recent interview the Surgeon General explained the new three-pillar health policy. Besides physical and nutritional wellness, Dr. Vivek Murthy is now also advocating consideration of emotional wellness. His statement is certainly not emotional. Science is telling us very regularly about the link between emotional well-being and health outcomes. The Surgeon General doesn’t mince words: “Stress is an epidemic in our country.” And many stress management methods are not healthy either. Establishing emotional balance, Dr. Murthy suggests, can happen through simple practices like sleep, social connections or meditation.

Establishing this emotional well-being in a stress-filled environment not only at work, in our school environment, but also in our socio-political context requires, I think, more than sleep or meditation. To block certain stress generating situations or thoughts we need to commit ourselves to specific values and practices that safeguard an unstressed space in mind and heart.

Baptism is part of these value practices that helps us destress and create this safe zone. Once a year we remember the baptism of Jesus and maybe this is an opportune time to highlight how baptism has never merely been a ritual for babies. To show this value of baptism let’s drop for a moment this churchy word ‘baptism’ that, as so many church words, has become laden with history and popular interpretations. The biblical backdrop of water symbolism has always been to highlight how grace seeks to revive the dried-out, overheated, worn-out components of our lives. Through water, grace is hoping to restore identity after people feel caught in the stream of historical events, compromising situations, violent oppressions, and yes at times personal sins. The biblical focus on water has always been to destress, unlock, or cleanse in order to reclaim dignity and liberty.

Running to the river for baptism won’t counter the stress epidemic the Surgeon General is worried about. Or maybe it would. Because time at the water is very relaxing. And reserving some holistic time to tend to the parts of our souls and bodies that are worn out by stress, can be very healing. The H2O-focus of our Biblical heritage helps us reconnect with the vital force in us that is like water, a crucial component of vitality. Discovering this vital force is like an arrival at the well, at a safe-zone space that helps us destress, regenerate, cool down, warm up, restart. May this Sunday’s baptism remembrance help us connect with the vital force of God’s grace in us.

Grounding Gratitude Amid Turbulent Storms

November 20, 2016

Napflix is the latest calming channel now streaming relaxing shows such as 2015 Cricket Matches, Koala Slow Life, or the 2016 Bocci Ball Tournament. Its humorist touch is in itself already a way of calming your mind. Watching three hours of ocean waves crashing on a tropical beach helps to detox a mind that has been absorbed by the suspenseful political season.

Whether it’s through Napflix, a walk in the forest, or a moment of breathing meditation, taking a break from the funnel effect of TV that is pulling us into the narrowing prospect of its narratives brings fresh air to our mind and our heart. Especially in a period when challenges come our way, it is important to deliberately change focus and widen our attention to the beauty of creation, the primal value of the privilege of existing, and acknowledging the blessings that come our way. Not that the wider perspective may solve all our problems, but losing touch with the beauty of the clouds, stars, or foliage, shrinks our daily life to a sense of immediacy and emergency that—while it may have some value and reason—pulls us away from multiple opportunities for joy, care, and gratitude.

Connecting with this wider sense of reality is exactly what helps us remain connected with who we are and what prevents the influences of the moment from shaping our values. This grounding wideness of gratitude resonates in one of the readings this Sunday (Colossians 1) when Paul prays: May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.

May the wideness of God’s power and mercy strengthen us all to march onward, to fight the good fight, at times to step back and reconnect with our faith, with or without Napflix.

Rector's Blog - A small image of Luk's signature

Prayers for Our President and Our Country: Healing Unity Conversation at this Week’s Sunday Forum

November 13, 2016

Emotions have dominated the presidential campaign. In months to come emotions will be a leading force in the way people express their political preferences. So often emotions have been framed as inferior. But research on emotional intelligence and emotional awareness is telling us emotions should be taken more seriously. This election campaign, before and after the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president, makes the same argument. People on both sides of the political camps are speaking and voting with emotion, because reason or science, arguments or logic have made them left hurt rather than feel heard.

As a church community, especially as a bipartisan community like our beloved Trinity Church, we  now are facing the tall order of bringing unity, reconciliation and deep understanding for the emotions whirling on both sides of the (political) aisle. The primary task we face as a church community is doing this ministry and labor of helping people process these emotions that are not just real, but that speak of an experience of living in America that has not be heard or told or transferred into policy in a way that alleviates or remedies the causes of their pain, their fear, and their sadness, caused by a myriad of circumstances.

In discussing this church task at hand, Lucile Bruce and her husband (and our deacon) Kyle Pedersen suggested we take a look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together. It is a very blessed suggestion! Published in 1939, Bonhoeffer stressed how being Christian means community. That is what Christ brought as one of his first actions: bringing people together, across the political, socio-cultural, and moral dividing lines of his time. Life Together through Christ does not happen in spite of political differences, but after working ourselves through the emotional fold-lines that are carved in us by the divisions. The following quote from Bonhoeffer’s book goes straight to the heart of the church service work we need to reignite today. I apologize if the quote pulls you right away into the crux of the book. Copies of the book will be arriving on Monday. But please join us this Sunday at 10am during our Sunday Forum to start this healing conversation about Life Together. May God bless our president-elect Donald Trump, may God bless our country, and may God bless our efforts to join each other in order to build the unity and mutual compassion we all need.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 33-34:
“Human love is by its very nature desire—desire for human community. So long as it can satisfy this desire in some way, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others. But where it can no longer expect this desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short—namely, in the face of an enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and calamity. Right here is the point where spiritual love begins. This why human love becomes personal hatred when it encounters genuine spiritual love, which does not desire but serves. Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him alone; it knows that it has no immediate access to other persons. Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves. I do not know in advance what love of others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my human desires—all this may rather be hatred and an insidious kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ. What love is, only Christ tells in his Word. Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love toward the brethren really is. Therefore, spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ. Where Christ bids me to maintain fellowship for the sake of love, I will maintain it.”

Rector's Blog - A small image of Luk's signature